Physiological and behavioral responses of an arboreal mammal to smoke and charcoal-ash substrate
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionPhysiology and Behavior. 2018, 184 116-121. 10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.11.020
The recent observation that torpor plays a key role in post-fire survival has been mainly attributed to the reduced food resources after fires. However, some of these adjustments can be facilitated or amplified by environmental changes associated with fires, such as the presence of a charcoal-ash substrate. In a previous experiment on a small terrestrial mammal the presence of charcoal and ash linked to food restriction intensified torpor use. However, whether fire cues also act as a trigger of torpor use when food is available and whether they affect other species including arboreal mammals remains elusive. To evaluate whether smoke, charcoal and ash can act as proximate triggers for an impending period of food shortage requiring torpor for mammals, we conducted an experiment on captive sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps), a small, arboreal marsupial, housed in outside aviaries under different food regimes and natural ambient conditions. When food was available, fire simulation via exposure to smoke and charcoal-ash substrate caused a significant earlier start of activity and a significant decrease in resting body temperature. In contrast, only when food was withheld, did smoke and charcoal-ash exposure significantly enhance torpor depth and duration. Thus, our study not only provides evidence that fire simulation does affect arboreal and terrestrial species similarly, but also suggests that smoke and ash were presumably selected as cues for torpor induction because they indicate an impending lack of food.